The Role of the Jury

Topics: Jury, Jury trial, Jury nullification Pages: 6 (2500 words) Published: April 7, 2013
The Role of the Jury Service

In the 12th century Henry II took a major step to developing the jury system by setting up a system to resolve land disputes using juries. Twelve unpaid men were given the responsibility of uncovering the facts of a certain case on their own, rather than by listening to arguments from both the prosecution and defence. The church banned participation of the clergy in trial by ordeal in 1215 and in the same year, trial by jury became a reasonably definite right in one of the most influential articles of Magna Carta. Article 39 of the Magna Carta contained the principle ‘trial by peers’, which is still used today in modern day cases. Today the jury is considered a fundamental part of the English legal system, despite only a minority of cases actually being tried by jury. The jury is composed of twelve unpaid lay members of the public, that is, ordinary people from society with no legal qualifications, who are randomly selected from the electoral role and called to court by means of summons. Since the Bushell’s case of 1670, juries have often been referred to as the deciders of fact, as this case gave jurors the right to give a verdict according to their conscience, regardless of the opinion of the judge. An important turning point in the history of the jury was the Bushell’s Case (1670). In August 1670 two preachers, William Penn and William Mead, who had non-conformist views of the Christian religion were arrested for holding a religious meeting in Gracechurch Street, London. Their trial took place in September 1670 and was to be heard before the mayor of London, the recorder for London and a panel of twelve jurors. From the beginning of the trial, the defendants were treated unfairly and given the irrational nature of the trial, the verdict seemed predictable. However the jurors, led by Edward Bushell, refused to comply with the court and found Penn and Mead only guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street. The recorder lost his temper with the jury and the jurors were locked up until they returned a verdict the court could accept, however the jurors held firm and refused to change their decision. The recorder fined the jurors and imprisoned them, and also imprisoned Penn and Mead for non-payment of their fines. Nevertheless, Bushell did not let the matter lie and triumphantly applied for a writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Common Pleas and, along with his fellow jurors, was released. Ever since this case it has been established that the jury were the sole deciders of fact, with the right to give a verdict according to their conscience, and could not be penalised for taking a view of the facts opposed to that of the judge. Until 1972, juries were selected on the basis of a property qualification, which resulted in juries, according to Lord Devlin, being ‘predominantly male, middle-aged, middle-minded and middle-class’. This qualification resulted in millions of people being excluded from jury service, which contrasted the idea that jurors should be widely representative of society in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and occupational backgrounds. In 1965, the Morris Committee recommended that the right to do jury service should correspond with the right to vote, and this reform was introduced in 1972, where jurors would be randomly selected from the electoral register. However, the new system still excluded a large number of people from society. The Juries Act 1974 set out the qualifications for jury service in criminal and civil cases. The selection rules identified three categories of people who would not have to serve on a jury. Firstly, those disqualified by prior conduct, such as those who had served custodial sentences, could not be on the jury. Secondly, those ineligible by occupation, such as members of the clergy, judges, professional lawyers, police officers and other members of the criminal justice system, or who was suffering from a mental illness, could not be on the jury....
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